The question sometimes arises as to who on either side of an argument is more enlightened, or smarter or less naive than the other. It can be pretty difficult when one of the abjectly stupidest, least informed and anti-intellectual human beings you’ve ever met says that talking to you is like “trying to explain a sunrise to a blind man”. Yeah, some yahoo actually said that to me. I then thought about it and realized that I could explain a sunrise to a blind man…but I digress.
When it comes to a particular position on a given subject, I use two tests to measure the thoughtfulness and what I call the opinion-directionality of the people in the discussion.
The measure of thoughtfulness includes whether the position is one of self-service. In other words, if you are right in your contention about racism, Confederate Flags, taxes, gay marriage, or any of a myriad of other subjects, who wins? If, in nearly every case, the answer is YOU, then I have no choice but to question your thoughtfulness, as you have a personal stake in the potential of your opinion prevailing. If you can somehow prove that racism is a fallacy and that black folk hide behind it to get bigger welfare payments while robbing my house and raping my daughter, and you just happen to be white…ya’ see where I’m going here, don’t you?
Now, I’m not suggesting that you can’t be white and have a legitimate argument about the veracity of a person’s stance on racism, but you’re gonna have to do better than just posting every article you see about white-on-black crime and think that you’ve made your point. (I know someone who does that). You’re gonna have to come up with some thoughtful, measured and well analysed arguments that can stand up to scrutiny, since, as I said, it is obviously in your interest to be right, so your argument is likely not the most objective.
The next measurement is the aforementioned opinion-directionality. What this questions is whether your opinion is one you’ve held for your entire life, or one that has evolved over time. The evolved opinion tends to sound a bit more substantive to me, and many others, because it tends to have been adopted after the relevant empirics have told you that your previous opinion, whatever it may have been, was wrong. It was arrived upon, instead of being included with your other mental baggage. Another way of saying it that you can’t change your mind about something unless you’ve actually thought about it. Those opinions that arrived at birth, or as a result of what I call parental attitudinal replication are more suspect since they have obviously been baked into the synaptic cake.
I have yet to meet someone who at one time thought that gay marriage was fine, yet later changed his mind and decided it was wrong. It always seems to go the other way.
I’ve yet to meet someone who once thought all races and religions should live as one and try to get along, yet later changed his mind and decided that white Christians should rule the world. Never, not once.
I’ve never met anyone who once thought that Confederate flags were emblematic of racism, slavery and treason, only to change his mind and decide that they’re just cute little emblems that celebrate Southern history.
The point about opinion-directionality is not that every opinion you’ve had since you pee-ed in place is necessarily wrong, backward and potentially of neanderthalistic origin, but it might prove that you haven’t spent a lot of time on anything remotely resembling introspection.
I have found that liberalism tends to be arrived at, after careful consideration, whereas conservatism tends to be an inherited, knee-jerk reaction to poorly understood events. Crime rises-so put more people in jail. A black guy did it-so they must all be criminals. You know a gay man with AIDS-they’re all filthy sinners. The word conservative itself, based on the premise of conserving, suggests that you like things just the way they’ve always been. Or like your parents had it.
And if I find that you are guilty of one or of both of those traits, as many, many conservatives are, that will make it hard for me to talk to you.